Lots of people hate kill ten rats. No I don’t mean the blog (it rocks), but that style of quest in an MMO, where some NPC with some minor issue sends you out to kill some number of enemies, only to have you come back and go kill the green version of that enemy, all so you can eventually kill the purple enemy tucked behind the blue and green enemies. With ‘epic’ quests like that, it’s no wonder many MMO players are constantly asking “am I at the level cap yet?”
I love the ‘kill 40 enemies’ quests in Atlantica Online. They are epic. I get excited finishing one and returning to the NPC only to be told to kill another 100 enemies located one floor lower in the dungeon. Also awesome is when you ‘only’ have to collect 20 drops from an enemy, when the drop rate is 25% and the enemy is always mixed in with 2-3 other types that don’t drop that specific type of toenail.
No, that’s not the usual sarcasm found on this blog, I’m actually being serious. Atlantica Online takes the usual boring MMO kill quests, makes them actually take LONGER, and somehow ends up making them epic. Ok maybe not “zomg world first Ragnaros kill” epic, but fun enough to make you look forward to doing them, and giving you a sense of progress and accomplishment when you finish a chain.
There are a ton of things that factor into this, chief among them being the huge list of motivating factors to kill something in AO. The list includes: gain xp, gain money, get gear, get stuff to sell, gain crafting points, regular quest objective, guild quest objective, gaining monster data. At any one time, a monster might be worth any or all of those, which is a TON of things to gain from just one kill, especially since all of the above factors are actually worthwhile. Money has actual value and you are constantly checking exactly how much you have. All gear is useful, since you upgrade gear by combining copies of the same item, and all other ‘trash’ drops are used in crafting, so have some value on the AH. Basically in AO, instead of watching one progress bar (xp) slowly tick up per kill, you have 2-5 different ‘bars’ ticking with each kill, and each of those things you actually care to advance.
Another major factor is the ‘less is more’ approach. Instead of entering a quest hub and grabbing the 5-15 quests available to you, each quest with some bla-bla-bla text supporting its bland objective, you only have ONE major quest line the entire time in AO, start to cap. Now the actual story itself won’t win any award (for originality or translation quality), but it’s a hell of a lot easier to follow one general story than having to keep track of 5-15 little ones. I can actually tell you what is going on in AO, while I have no clue why the Dark Elves are fighting everyone in Warhammer Online, or why the Orcs in WoW have issue with whoever they had issue with. And because of this one quest chain, any side quests you pick up are instantly more noticeable as side quests. They also always have one major reward, be it a special mercenary, item, or gameplay feature, and all of this is presented to you up front. Before you even start it, you know that the npc you are talking to is the one who starts the witch mercenary quest, or the unique main character-only ring quest. If you don’t want the witch merc (or the massive gold you get for selling her on the AH (dirty…)), you skip the side quest, no worries. You won’t ever complete a long side quest only to get some junk vendor gear at the end. The side quests are also all lengthy, so they really make you work for the end reward, rather than handing it to you after you kill one named NPC, or pick up 5 moldy mushrooms growing two feet from the NPC. When you finish a side quest chain and get your reward, you really feel that you earned it.
As stated here many times, there is a ton of variety in AO. This is a general theme to the game, but also helps the questing aspect in that you don’t have to grind out quest objective after quest objective just to get to something interesting. At any time online, you can stop questing to do some no-risk PvP in the free league, place some bets and watch the NPC arena, help your guild with its town by persuading roaming NPCs, be social and just chat or share mob info while auto-crafting, jump into a guild-point generating training center with your guild, etc. The combat system being turn based and squad based also helps break up the usual skill-mashing mass-murder, plus you have 9 characters gaining xp instead of just one. 9 bars > 1 bar and all that.
Playing AO while hitting rank 40 in WAR (grats me!) made me realize that MMO questing really is a case of ‘less is more’ now. UO had no real quests, AC had some but they were minor, DAoC was a lot of mob grinding with a few quests, and finally WoW was the first MMO I played that went quest-to-quest until the cap. WAR is also like that, but with modern features like red mini-map circles and auto-looting of quest drops. It’s ‘better’ in that it’s faster and easier, but that also makes each quest more meaningless and bla. AO has quests, other MMOs have tasks or errands, despite the actual objectives being the same. We can talk story and ‘epic’ all we want, but at the end of the day good questing comes down to the most important factor of all, gameplay, and Atlantica Online has it in spades.